Priya Khalsa (JD/MSW)
Getting that acceptance letter to U of T Law inevitably sparked a flurry of excitement and change. Of course it meant the usual things like moving to Toronto, finding a place to live, and preparing to begin a demanding new program. For student parents like myself, it also meant searching for neighbourhoods that were connected to good schools and navigating the exorbitantly priced Toronto rentals for two-bedroom homes. I was connected with the Family Care Office and the family housing at the University well before I arrived in Toronto.
From Day One, I was struck by the warm and welcoming vibe at the law school. Jerome Poon-Ting remembered my son—who was six years old at the time—from a law school tour and stopped me to check in about how he was adjusting to the big city and Grade One in a new school. As a sole-support parent, I had additional concerns about balancing my family life with the demands of full-time school.
Organizing childcare is the most challenging obstacle. The first-year law schedule is parent-friendly in the sense that classes end by 5:30pm at the latest. For upper year courses, my options are more limited, as some classes that greatly interest me are offered only after 4:00pm. Before- and after-school care is offered at my son’s school for $500 per month, an amount that could be subsidized if and when I move off of the lengthy wait list. Despite these stressors, I don’t feel that being a single parent has negatively impacted my academic, or even my volunteer, participation. For example, this year I am participating in PBSC’s Family Law Project, which had its full-day training on a Saturday. The coordinators were very accommodating and permitted me to bring my son when I was unable to find childcare.
That being said, my experiences have been less positive in the social sphere. I first discovered the isolation that comes with being a student and single parent simultaneously when I was in undergrad. It was difficult to connect with younger students without family responsibilities not only because of the difference in lifestyles, but also because of a lack of opportunity. Most social events were not child-friendly and were scheduled on evenings or weekends.
I have found this problem to be heightened in law school. Almost all of the social events are late at night on weekdays and are not accommodating to students with schedules that deviate from the norm. I started a combined program (the JD/MSW) at the Faculty of Social Work this year and was pleasantly surprised at the more diverse array of social activity offerings. I was able to attend an orientation event at Fox and Fiddle since it was early in the day: from 3:00pm to 6:00pm. This Faculty also held a Santa Claus Parade party and made a point of inviting students along with their families. Additionally, there is a club for student parents which serves as a forum for meeting others who may be facing similar issues. Some of these ideas can and should be implemented at the Law Faculty, and I hope to be part of bringing about needed change next year.
I have definitely had to look toward resources and supports outside the University to supplement the programs offered internally. My advice to other student parents (and especially single parents) is to research and take advantage of every possible support and resource that the city offers. Reach out to people and the administration if you need help; don’t isolate yourself. Completing law school as a parent is no doubt a major undertaking, but it is certainly achievable, and the little successes along the way are all the more rewarding when I get to celebrate them with my son.